Following a drawn out, contentious campaign, millions of Americans flocked to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th to cast their vote for President of the United States. At Collegiate, Middle School students, while too young to vote in the official election, were offered a similar opportunity to engage in the political process on Election Day.
Under the guidance of Assistant Head of Middle School Dr. Fletcher Collins and Middle School history teachers Jeff Dunnington and Dave Fuller, the Middle School held a mock presidential election, as they do every four years, complete with voter registration, student poll workers, and ballots reflecting the actual candidates.
“The eighth graders were the registrars and the poll workers,” explained Collins. “You had to register on Monday; all you had to do was stop by a table in the front hall and say your name, and they would check you off.”
“On Tuesday you would go to the poll worker, and they would have that check mark,” he elaborated, highlighting the realistic nature of the mock election. “If you hadn’t registered on Monday, you could not vote.”
At the polling stations, which were computers in the Middle School library sectioned off by tri-fold boards, young voters selected their candidate of choice from a Google form. Middle Schoolers could select one of five candidates: Donald Trump (R), Hillary Clinton (D), Gary Johnson (L), Jill Stein (G), or Evan McMullin (I). “We modeled it on the Virginia ballot,” said Collins, mentioning that unlike the true ballot, write-in candidates were not an option.
As in real elections, voting wasn’t obligatory. Eighth grader Chase C. (‘21) explained, “You had to take time out of your day to go and vote, which is something that people have to do with work, so it felt more real.” (Full disclosure: Chase is the author’s brother.) Despite voting being optional, Middle School turnout at the polls, 69 percent, was relatively high, topping the national rate by over ten percent.
Going into the mock election, many in the Middle School thought that Trump would prevail by a wide margin. Chase recounted that he was “already convinced beforehand that the grade was more pro-Trump.”
According to Collins, “In past years – even the Obama years – it was heavily Republican,” referencing data he had seen in previous Collegiate elections. However, he explained that some of the faculty expected a close race, as did many pundits regarding the actual race. “We didn’t know how it was going to turn out either. It sounded like it was going to be pretty close, and it was pretty close.”
Trump did indeed emerge victorious, yet not by the extreme margin that Collins had seen in past mock election results. Not only was Clinton within seven points, but she also carried the fifth grade.
“This was the closest election ever, I believe, in the Middle School, and to have one grade go Democratic — I don’t think that’s ever happened,” conveyed Collins.
Also unexpected was the support for third-party candidates. “I was surprised at the number of third-party votes,” said Chase, “because I thought people were going to be more pro-Trump or pro-Hillary.” Overall, Johnson, Stein, and McMullin garnered 15 percent, which Chase attributes to students’ familiarization with all candidates to history class and the “I Side With” quiz.
Results aside, Chase expressed that he, as well his classmates, appreciated the engagement in the political process. “It felt empowering,” he remarked, “even though we know it doesn’t make a difference. It was nice to show your support for a candidate by actually putting yourself out there and voting for them.”
Collins highlighted that the election represented only one facet of a greater civics learning initiative. “The eighth grade history class does our teaching civics in the fall every year, and in election years, they focus on it.”
Eighth graders immersed themselves in the election and campaign process from a politician’s point of view through a separate mock election. “You invented your own party with your own platform and campaigned for that party with videos and stuff, but they didn’t do Democrat or Republican … that would get too contentious,” claimed Collins.
Given both the unpredictable nature and national tension surrounding the election, Chase and Collins agreed that this year’s election season at Collegiate felt particularly contentious. “We were concerned about it,” admitted Collins, yet he reiterated that the faculty didn’t consider canceling the election. “We never thought we wouldn’t do it; I think that would send a terrible message — to cancel it, that’s un-American.”
According to Chase, working in a group of classmates with varying political ideals turned out to be one of the highlights. “It was interesting because you had to merge views with other people because not everybody in your group had your same views.”
Feature image courtesy of Collegiate School.